With recent research highlighting that a third of LGBT travellers have had negative experiences because of their sexuality whilst abroad, it seems as though world travel can still be limited for the community. The attitudes, cultures and practises of some countries can, unfortunately, be less accommodating to LGBT travellers. However, with just 46% of the LGBT community researching destinations before travelling, it can be argued that this situation could significantly improve with increased awareness of problems that can arise.
Europe appears to have the most progressive attitudes towards the LGBT community. However, travel East and the Rainbow Europe map quickly turns yellow, then red. Putin’s introduction of new ‘anti-gay’ laws places Russia as the European nation with the least rights for the LGBT community and has even led to attacks on the community. The answer should not be for LGBT travellers to avoid Russia. However, awareness of, for example, the national ban on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” is crucial information. Taking for granted simple behaviour that is widely accepted at home is, regrettably, one of the main reasons for misunderstandings that can result in hefty fines or even deportation.
Similar issues are also common in Africa; 38 African countries still criminalise homosexuality and there are life sentences for simply being part of the LGBT community. The recent arrest of British traveller, Ray Cole, in Morocco is a prime example of how tourists can fall victim to hostile attitudes towards sexuality. Mr Cole was approached on the street and imprisoned due to evidence on his phone of the ‘crime’ of homosexuality. While this arrest is both deplorable and would be illegal in the UK, it is of paramount importance that members of the LGBT community are fully aware of any specific laws around sexuality. For example, even if homosexual behaviour is carried out in a private place, any complaints made can lead to prosecution.
Parts of East Asia are also some of the most hostile places towards the LGBT community. Although Indonesia has legalised same-sex relationships, social prejudices are apparent; according to a survey 93% of Indonesians felt that homosexuals “should not be accepted”. Despite the law saying one thing, the national attitude is certainly saying another – the results show a high level of stigma attached to homosexuality. Again, sensitivity to local attitudes is crucial when abroad.
From being refused rooms in hotels to being caught in police entrapment campaigns via chat rooms, the risks for LGBT travellers are numerous. Being at risk can have drastic consequences and it must not be forgotten that many of these authorities see their actions as simply enforcing their own laws. Being aware of what can go wrong is essential, as attitudes are clearly very different across the world. The key message is that you are likely to have less problems if you take the time to research your destination, understand regional issues and become aware of local customs – in short, ‘Know Before You Go’.
The FCO Travel Advice website (www.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo) has detailed and up-to-date information from around the world, including a dedicated page for LGBT travellers.
We may not be able to change attitudes to the LGBT community abroad at present, but we must be aware of them.